“The Penalty of Treason is Death”
So proclaimed supposed left-winger Bill Maher to the applause of his supposed left-wing audience Friday night. The question: a brief consideration of Ron Paul’s critique of Obama’s assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki. Seth MacFarlane commented that while he trusted Obama with this power, he would be troubled with the exercise of such power by someone like Michelle Bachmann. Salman Rushdie, apparently unbothered by any consideration of irony regarding unilateral issuance of death edicts, informed us that those who commit treason forfeit any claim to rights, a comment which prompted Maher’s succinct editorial conclusion: “…And the Penalty of Treason is Death.”
That was the cue for the audience applause, but it also served as a reminder that what supposedly passes for “liberal” is usually anything but. The liberal would have corrected Rushdie that US presidential edict is not sufficient to establish the crime of treason. It has to be substantiated in open court. And the liberal would have reminded Bill Maher that death is not the only the punishment prescribed by congress for this crime. The penalty for those convicted is either death or imprisonment not less than five years. However, the liberal would also be quick to remind both Rushdie and Maher that “treason” hitherto has been a very rare charge/prosecution in American history, with conviction even rarer still, and execution yet even rarer. Indeed, there have been as many pardons1 of “treason” convictions as executions.
Convicted and Executed:
Herbert Hans Haupt: German-born naturalized U.S. citizen, convicted of treason in 1942.
(i)Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt, conviction by military tribunal concerning the Lincoln Assassination
(ii) William Bruce Mumford: convicted of treason and executed for tearing down a United States flag
John Brown Slave Revolt(technically, tried by the commonwealth of Virginia and not the Feds):
(i) John Brown
(ii) Aaron Dwight Stevens
Those pardoned of the crime of Treason
(i) Tokyo Rose, pardoned by Gerald Ford
(ii) Tomoya Kawakita, deported by JFK in lieu of execution
(i) Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and other leading confederates given amnesty from indictment or trial of Treason by Andrew Johnson
Governor Thomas Dorr, guilty treason verdict in 1844 anulled in 1854
Philip Vigol and John Mitchell pardoned by George Washington
The liberal, then, rather than clapping to Maher’s assertion, dampens the Obama celebration with the point of objection: “Actually Bill, up to now in American History, the penalty of Treason, as a convicted crime, has just as likely resulted in a pardon than execution. This is what is supposed to separate us from the barbarians, such as Iran, right Salman?”
Then the liberal, amidst the onset of partisan booing, proceeds to set the actual historical and legal meaning straight: this power the US Executive claims actually has nothing to with usurping the constitutional parameters of treason. It goes way beyond that. It’s claim of extrajudicial power to murder overturns the entire liberal legal tradition. We’ve returned to the original historical meaning of “outlaw,” which denoted someone declared outside the sphere of legal protection. Any person saddled with this designation was fair game, meaning anyone was “legally” sanctioned to do anything they wanted to against that person, including murder.
The liberal legal tradition ultimately derives from the principle of the Great Writ, habeas corpus, which subjugates any “legal sanctioned” punishment to due process. This simply means that the State, the King, or the Authority cannot sanction any punishment against the accused as “legal” without “due process,” that is, without some mechanism in place for the accused to challenge the accusation. Habeas corpus puts an end to the historical meaning of outlaw because the State does not have the legitimate power to legally define someone as “fair game.”
The liberal will then point out the final egregious error of the partisan Obamatard defenders, such as Mother Jones. If you are liberal, it is far better to deal with a Bush/Cheney regime that operates under a unitary executive principle that any action by the President is legal by virtue of the office itself than with an Obama regime that legitimizes it under the “rule of law.”
Let me spell out the problem for liberalism: The “rule of law” under the “liberal State” has now re-legitimized the old historical legal concept of the “outlaw,” a legal concept, specifically, it’s abolition, that more or defines the raison d’etre of the liberal State itself.
Mother Jones attempt to legitimize Obama under the “rule of law” only reminds us of the validity of the libertarian critique. The “rule of law” phrase itself means shit; the historical definition of “outlaw” was enforced by two thousand years of interpretation regarding the “rule of law.”
Eventually, the honest liberal comes to understand that “eternal vigilance” largely means nullifying the “rule of law.” “Outlaw,” however, cannot be nullified in the court. The American revolutionaries, under charge of “outlaws,” didn’t nullify it in King George’s court of law. They nullified it on the battlefield.
Here’s the current reality. The people of the world, under the rule of “American Exceptionalism,” now largely despise their governments. Thus, there shouldn’t be any surprise that the US wields the greatest unaccountable secret intelligence/military complex in the history of the world. And it shouldn’t be any surprise that American law now has resurrected the historical legal sanction of “outlaw.”
In the end, we should understand what is meant by American Exceptionalism: the liberal legitimization of “outlaw.”
1 The term Pardon here, for brevity, has a more expansive meaning than it’s actual technical meaning. In this context, it refers to pardon, deportation, amnesty, or anullment.